But startup BrightFarms has a unique solution that will provide stores with an exclusive supply of fresh, safe and local produce year around – even in large cities far from farms.
“Local is the number one demand heard in food today. Restaurants are all over it, but supermarkets are struggling,” said Paul Lightfoot, CEO of BrightFarms, a company that finances, builds and operates greenhouse farms.
He explained many grocery stores cannot meet consumer demand for local produce because “their systems aren’t designed to buy from small farms, so in many cases, particularly in a year around basis, supermarkets just aren’t in the game for local food.”
BrightFarms can help them change that though by bringing to supermarkets on a commercial scale year around food that is safe and reliable, Lightfoot said.
“We do this in an unusual way by instead of building a farm and selling the food, instead we go out and forge a partnership with the supermarkets and that partnership essentially guarantees the revenue of our farm with fixed prices in a long-term commitment to buy at a certain level,” Lightfood said, adding that the supermarket’s guaranteed purchase enables BrightFarms to raise capital to build a greenhouse near the store.
In exchange, retailers are “guaranteed a steady supply of year-around, high quality, great tasting, longer lasting and more nutritious produce that is going to scratch the itch of consumers who want to know where their food comes from and that they can trust a local supplier,” Lightfoot explained.
BrightFarms offers increased food safety
Growing produce hydroponically indoors also controls for safety in a way that farming outside in soil cannot, and in doing so can help protect retailers’ reputations and consumers’ health, Lightfoot said.
“We’ve seen in the last several years some big tragic incidents of people becoming sick because of food safety problems. Growing in a controlled environment doesn’t, of course, eliminate all the risks, but it dramatically [reduces] the occurrence of these problems,” Lightfoot said.
He explained greenhouses eliminate “some of the risk from water, from animals, from birds flying overhead that we’ve seen in the food supply.”
“A great time” to grow indoors
BrightFarms already has secured deals with several large retailers and is optimistic about future growth.
“As an entrepreneur who is passionate about food that is making people healthier and is better for the planet, this is a great time,” Lightfoot said. “Our revenues are exploding, our production capacity is rising from 56,000 square feet last year to 360,000 square feet by the end of June. I couldn’t be any more excited.”
With deals already inked with Roundy’s banner of Kroger, Ahold in DC and Albertson’s Acme stores in Philadelphia, Lightfoot hopes to continue BrightFarm’s momentum by building a national platform with as many as 15 additional markets by the end of 2018.
“This is a terrific time for us,” he concluded.